Congressman Jeff Miller and Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jon Greenert spoke to the media aboard NAS Pensacola Tuesday. But the star of the show was moored nearby at Pier Charlie.
The USS Independence is the test ship for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) mine countermeasure mission package. The testing has been underway in the Gulf of Mexico since late February. She’s 418 ft. long and carries a 40-member crew. Admiral Greenert says her strengths are high speed, great volume, and being modular.
“What that means is you can change out ‘packages’ to do different missions,” said Greenert. “You’ll see Gatling guns put in, a missile system. And this would all be cubes going in there. To do this in a matter of a few days, these packages would be forward-deployed and stationed around the world at the hot spots.”
Built in Mobile, Alabama by Austal USA and delivered to the Navy in 2009, the Independence’s two diesel-powered water jets can generate speeds up to 18 knots (21 mph). Two gas-turbine water jets can deliver up to 44 knots (51 mph) sustainable, and even faster in short periods.
LCS decks can also handle a variety of helicopters, which would be armed with Gatling guns, missiles, or other weaponry as required by the mission.
Cong. Jeff Miller sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Prior to meeting with the media, he and Admiral Greenert toured the Independence.
“This ship will be home ported far away from here (San Diego) eventually,” said Miller. “But there’s going to be a great number of them that will be built over the years.
Plans are for Austal USA to build a total of 52 LCS vessels for the Navy.
The ship’s company, says Adm. Jon Greenert, has undergone specialized training to include multiple capabilities, at very intricate training sites. They’re also older and more experienced sailors. Another weapon an LCS can utilize when needed is one of the newest, and highest-profile weapons among all U.S. military branches: drones.
“Drones are a part of the Navy and in fact, this particular ship will carry three drones initially,” said Greenert. “It’s called ‘Fire Scout.’ And training folks to do that is part and parcel. The Naval Reserve community will be a key part of that.”
In addition to cargo or container-sized mission modules, an LCS bay can carry four lanes of multiple Stryker fighting vehicles and Humvees, along with their associated troops. An elevator allows air transport of packages up to 20 ft. long, which can be moved into the mission bay while at sea. Bunks and living spaces are below the bridge. The helm is controlled by joysticks instead of traditional steering wheels.
The USS Independence will be at NAS Pensacola through this summer.